Every year, our friend and astrophotographer extraordinaire John Chumack co-leads a tour to Alaska on how to photograph the northern lights and the night sky, and this year they hit paydirt. “Absolutely amazing aurora about 30 minutes outside Fairbanks, Alaska!!!!” John wrote via email. “I took over 450 photos of it, I watched it dance and sway from 9:30pm until 4:00am!!! It got so bright at times it turn the snow green, to red to purple too!”
UPDATE: John sent us an update and a couple of additional aurora photos from subsequent nights in Alaska. He said he has done quite a bit of research over the years, and Fairbanks has the highest number of clear nights late March — when he annually hosts the aurora tour. “Also the Earth’s Magnetic Field is weaker near equinox, so even if you don’t get flares, the solar wind is enough to spark aurora displays,” John said via email. “We are on our 4th consecutive clear nights with great Aurora displays. Only a KP-2 index Level is need to see them here.”
Here are some pictures of Alaska, taken from space by a variety of Earth observation satellites. These satellites capture images of Alaska to help scientists understand the natural processes that shape our planet. But, in our case, they also make for really pretty pictures.
This is a picture of Alaska; the Brooks Range in Northern Alaska. This picture was taken by the true-color Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on board NASA’s Terra satellite, which was launched in 1999. The Beaufort Sea is at the top of the image.
This is an image of the point between Alaska and Northwest Canada. You can see the sea ice off the coast of Northern Alaska. This image was taken in Spring, as the northern tundra is just starting to be visible under the melting snow.
This is a photograph of Eastern Alaska. You can see the Aleutian Islands and Kodiak Island, as well as the Yukon River. The cloud bank is hiding a plankton bloom in Bristol Bay.
This is a satellite photo of the Coast of Alaska. Perhaps the most famous feature is Prince William Sound, the site of the Exxon oil tanker spill. The lighter colors in the ocean comes from sediment coming off the ground and being carried into the ocean by currents.
Of course, one of the most famous features of Alaska are the spectacular Northern Lights. This image was captured by Joshua Strang at an air base in Alaska. We see the Northern Lights when particles from the Sun’s solar wind are channeled by the Earth’s magnetic field, creating ionized particles in the upper atmosphere.